Sunday, November 2, 2008

A November Meal or Two...

"...a November chill has a metallic feel to it, icy and pentrating. It is a light rain, a slow whispering wind, a crisp frost softened by the refreshing rays of sun that hurdle the garden wall by midmorning. The garden behaves like a setting sun this time of year, changing still, but in a manner so slow and discreet it can escape notice. There is no longer promise in the garden. The plants decay like an abandoned house, and the trees stand naked and self-conscious, having wept all of their leaves." ~ from Amanda Hesser's The Cook and the Gardener

Not to make you sick of this little swag, but this post is about autumn cooking, after all, and what else could I do this evening but take a few photos while I waited for the chicken stock to finish itself? And isn't that the cutest little string of leaves and pumpkins! (Sorry, Michelle, but, yes, I'm posting it again!)

Part of what I like about autumn and winter cooking is roasting, braising, and easy, slow-cooking. Two months ago, all I wanted to eat was light food with bright, clean, fresh flavors, but November has arrived. And, as the seasons change, the weather cools, the sky darkens, the fire burns continuously in the woodstove, and we're bundling up to stay warm, roasted and slowly-cooked foods seem just right.

Roasting draws such great flavor from food, and it's an easy, nonmessy, hands-off way to cook. We roast something-- either for lunch or dinner-- almost every day, or at least several times a week, in the colder seasons. Chicken. Sausage. Potatoes. Beets. Turnips. All sorts of winter squash. Various combinations of vegetables. Cauliflower wedges. Garlic. Salmon. So many things.

My partially cooked etuveed vegetables.

I usually do my roasting in a low-sided, uncovered pan (my most-used roasting pan is a big steel one from a British school kitchen; I've had it for 23 years), but yesterday I tried Peter Berley's pot-roasted winter vegetables, cooking them, covered, in my favorite red LeCreuset cast iron pan.

I cut up (or, in some cases, left whole) chunks of whatever winter vegetables I had around that would mix well: fingerling potatoes-- both red and white; carrots-- both red and orange; shallots; onions (I like lots of onions in my roasted vegetables); whole cloves of garlic; dried thyme leaves (because I had no fresh sprigs); and a sprig of rosemary. This was all tossed in 2 or 3 tablespoons of olive oil and sprinkled with enough salt and pepper to insure a well-seasoned pot of vegetables. I didn't do it this time, but I kind of like a good squeeze of lemon added before roasting this type of vegetable. Next time.

These pot-roasted vegetables end up more creamy than the ones that are roasted in an uncovered pan. I love the crispy-caramelized vegetables that result from open-pan roasting, but the vegetables get caramelized in the pot-roasted version, too-- they're just more creamy-caramelized.

If you want to try this, it's easy. Mix everything together in the pan. Cover. Roast at 450 degrees for 45 minutes (or til potatoes are creamy and done). Shake the pan (or stir gently) several times throughout cooking.

To say I "pot-roasted" these vegetables (as Peter Berley does), is not nearly as much fun as saying I "etuveed" them. I got that from Madeleine Kamman's book, The Making of a Cook. In the first edition of her book, she used the term pot-roasting, but, she says, "I prefer the French term etuvee, which means... a dish of vegetables cooked covered, in their own juices, without any liquid added or, if any, very little." To be honest, I'm not sure the vegetables we had could be said to have been cooked by the etuvee method. (That term might apply only to dishes cooked over low heat; I'm not sure.) I like the word, though, and since ignorance is bliss, I'll happily use it. Etuvee.

I started out using this stock recipe as a general guide, leaving out the leek, porcini, and herbs, and I ended up altering it quite a bit.

Whatever is the proper name of the cooking method I used, the vegetables were yummy. And since some of the roasted vegetables were leftover, I made chicken stock this evening, added the vegetables to it, and made a soup. It, too, was really tasty.

I do love making chicken stock. Last winter, when Melissa had some kind of rare allergic reaction and was sick for 6 weeks, the only thing she wanted to eat was homemade chicken stock. So, I made it all the time. She either ate clear broth or she had a simple, clean soup. The one she loved the most was simply chicken broth with cabbage, carrots, and onions simmered in it til they were very tender. After making our own broth for weeks and weeks, we could no longer abide the taste of the store-bought stuff-- even organic. It's just really delicious to make your own.

I definitely have a favorite stock recipe, and that is the one Judy Rodgers describes in her Zuni Cafe Cookbook. I don't like herbs added to my stock, and I don't like anything strong in it, either. I like to end up with a clean, bright chickeny taste to my broth. Judy Rodgers' broth takes about four hours to cook. I needed to make something more quickly than that this evening, so I used a recipe from Terence Conran's book. It calls for wings only and supposedly cooks for only 40 minutes. But it didn't work out that way.

Patience makes a good broth. Here's the chicken stock, in my well-used LeCreuset pan, simmering, simmering, simmering, then simmering some more, this evening in our kitchen.

After 40 minutes, after an hour, after an hour and a half, the broth still tasted too watery for my liking, so I kept cooking it, and cooking it, tasting, tasting, until the broth had finally reached an acceptable level of chickenyness. And then I added the leftover vegetables and simmered until they were completely warmed. And Melissa and I ate the entire pot of soup all by ourselves (it wasn't very big).

Oh, I'm probably getting carried away with the cooking talk, and anyone who has read this far probably really enjoys being in the kitchen. I hope I don't come off sounding like I think I'm a cooking pro (because I am really very much an amateur-- who mostly learns by failure-- in every aspect of cooking).

But during the months that I spend most of my time indoors, I like nothing more than to surround myself with large stacks of cookbooks. I spend my extra time reading them word for word, making lists, planning what I want to cook, and learning a bit more about food and cooking. I like a prosy cookbook and don't have many that are simply collections of recipes. Perusing these highly readable cookbooks is, for me, comforting and cosy and just plain fun.